GAINESVILLE -- The back half of the Florida Gators men's basketball team's Southeastern Conference schedule begins at 9 p.m. on Tuesday night with an important away game against the Kentucky Wildcats. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Kentucky has lost three straight, including two at home, so expect the 'Cats to take the court believing this is one of their most important games of the season. Florida (19-4, 6-2 in the SEC) is a game ahead of Kentucky (16-7, 5-3) in the SEC East standings and currently leads the division. A road when at Rupp Arena would bolster not only the Gators' NCAA Tournament resume but also strengthen the young Gators' collective confidence level. Florida has lost two of its last three away games.
"This game means a lot to them but also means a lot to us," Florida guard Nick Calathes said. "This will put us in first place in the SEC. It's going to be a tough game."
In a loss at Tennessee on Jan.31, Florida was out-muscled and out-hustled by an athletic Volunteers team in need a win. It's the same scenario on Tuesday. Kentucky is led by 6-9, 235-pound power forward Patrick Patterson, one of the SEC's most dominant big men. Florida doesn't have a player to match-up with Patterson's ability and strength, so expect a steady rotation of UF defenders throughout the game. Florida coach Billy Donovan said on Monday that the goal defensively against Kentucky will be to tire Patterson early in the game and limit Kentucky guard Joe Meeks, who is averaging 25.1 points per game.
"Patterson is a beast," UF forward Chandler Parsons said. "Him and Jodie Meeks are like the highest-scoring tandem in college basketball, so we're going to have to do a really good job on those guys. We're going to throw different defenses at them and see what we can do."
Florida basketball fans are quite familiar with Patterson. After a long recruiting battle, he chose Kentucky and new coach Billy Gillispie over Florida and coach Billy Donovan. Kentucky has lost seven of its last eight games against the Gators but defeated UF at Rupp Arena last season in Patterson's first home game against Florida.
"[Patterson] is big and strong and he knows how to use his lower body and hips and doesn't have to play with his arms and his hands," UF junior Dan Werner said. "He hits you with his hip and you can't get up and that's something you learn and is a talent."
Meeks is capable of dominating a game as well. He scored a school-record 54 points in a win against Tennessee in January. Does Meeks have the ability to dominate Florida? UF recently allowed 33 points to South Carolina guard Devan Downey.
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS (19-4, 6-2)
F Dan Werner 6-8, 230 (9.2 ppg/4.4 rpg)
F Chandler Parsons 6-9, 213 (10.4/5.9r)
C Alex Tyus 6-8, 220 (12.4/6.3r)
G Nick Calathes 6-6, 194 (18.1/6.4apg)
G Walter Hodge 6-0, 170 (7.7/2.4a)
KENTUCKY PROBABLE STARTERS (16-7, 5-3)
F Ramon Harris 6-7, 218 (5.3/3.0 rpg)
F Perry Stevenson 6-9, 207 (7.9/6.7r)
F Patrick Patterson 6-9, 225 (18.3/9.2r)
G Michael Porter 6-3, 193 (3.5/2.9apg)
G Jodie Meeks 6-4, 208 (25.1/3.5a)